Getting vaccines to remote areas of the world through wireless and remote, end-to-end cold chain monitoring

Pharmaceuticals, Cold chain management   19 Sep 2018

In 2015, there were 134,200 estimated deaths from measles alone (15 every hour), according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and it is one of the leading causes of child deaths. Measles is also one of many diseases that is entirely avoidable through vaccinations. According to Unicef, “More than 30 million children are unimmunized either because vaccines are unavailable, because health services are poorly provided or inaccessible, or because families are uninformed or misinformed about when and why to bring their children for immunization.” On top of that, the number of vaccines wasted each year is enormous. Forbes reports that up to 40%, or over 100$ million worth, of polio vaccines alone are wasted each year.

In order to address the issue of vaccines being readily available it is imperative to get as many effective and safe vaccines to remote and poor areas of the world as possible by drastically reducing waste. This, however, is not always an easy task as vaccines can become ineffective or even unsafe due to environmental conditions.

The need to monitor temperature

The vaccine supply chain is complex, as most vaccines must be stored and transported between 2° and 8° C. Deviations beyond this range can damage vaccines and make them unusable. In the best scenarios deviations are known, leading to supply shortage and wasted products and investments. At worst, it is never discovered that the vaccines are no longer good, making them ineffective and possibly unsafe. This leads not only to less individuals receiving the vaccines, but also the likelihood that some have received ineffective ones without even knowing it.

Cooling units for transit and vaccine fridges in hospitals are a critical part of the vaccine supply chain, as the integrity of these immunizations rely on being temperature controlled. And these cooling units and vaccine fridges often fail. With most temperature monitoring solutions designed for the pharmaceutical industry, even those that claim to be real-time, deviations aren’t known until after vaccine products are no longer good, and often not at all. In the case of vaccines, there is no visual indication that they are no longer effective.

This not only means that less effective vaccines can reach rural parts of the globe, but that the number of vaccinated individuals might actually be misrepresented and, therefore, unknown how close a region is to herd immunity.

What is true real-time monitoring?

Many products on the market can monitor temperature at all times and provide a report of the temperature while it was in transport, but that information is only available to the customer after they retrieve the logger off of the shipment and extract the data wirelessly or via USB. What they don’t do is provide that data the moment it happens, so you can proactively react if something has gone awry and save products.

Some providers can provide real-time monitoring, but only when there is a gateway present to retrieve the data. These solutions are expensive and hard to scale.

Why real-time monitoring is critical for the vaccine supply chain

Knowing in real-time if a temperature deviation occurs enables supply chain professionals to intervene before the product becomes unusable. Let’s say that your vaccines are on a truck crossing a border and a real-time notification is sent to the right stakeholder that the temperature is decreasing. In this case, the truck driver can be notified so that he or she can remedy the situation before the vaccines crystalize.

If the product is ruined because a deviation was not caught in time, then quality professionals can have peace of mind that those shipments without temperature deviations are safe to give to the patient. This results not only in less product waste, but increases the awareness of how many patients have received an effective vaccine. On top of that, it saves many precious hours spent both on testing the vaccines and investigating shipments for release, as it empowers quality professionals to manage by exception.

Getting the necessary information about temperature and other environmental deviations, provides peace of mind that the vaccines are, in fact, still working, without having to test each and every one. Real-time monitoring and data also makes it possible to get customizable analytics and report-generating tools, which can help to improve the supply chain over time, predicting which routes have the least temperature deviations. With the right data and analytics, health workers are empowered to accurately inform ministries of health with the facts needed to continuously improve cold chain performance in developing areas.

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